For many of us, an alcoholic beverage is a small pleasure on a long flight.
For many of us, an alcoholic beverage is a small pleasure on a long flight.

Can you drink on flights to Dubai?

THE simple act of enjoying a tipple on a long flight has been called into question after a British woman claimed she was arrested and detained at Dubai airport after drinking a glass of wine on her Emirates flight.

Dentist and mum-of-three Ellie Holman, 44, is facing a year in prison in Dubai after she and her young daughter Bibi were detained after their flight from London arrived at Dubai International Airport last month.

After being told her visa had expired and she had to return to London immediately, Dr Holman got into a standoff with an immigration officer.

But she claimed she was also asked if she had been drinking, and confirmed she had enjoyed a complimentary glass of wine on her flight - not unlike many travellers on long-haul Emirates flights.

Ellie Holman, 44, from Kent, UK, was arrested by immigration officials after she arrived in Dubai on an Emirates flight. Picture: Supplied
Ellie Holman, 44, from Kent, UK, was arrested by immigration officials after she arrived in Dubai on an Emirates flight. Picture: Supplied

Dr Holman said she was then told possession of alcohol, even if consumed, was illegal in the United Arab Emirates. She was subjected to blood alcohol test, returned a reading of 0.04, and was held in a cell.

Bibi was later allowed to return to her father in the UK while Dr Holman awaits trial in Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates, a deeply conservative kingdom where Islam is the official religion, has strict rules about the possession and consumption of alcohol.

But in Dubai, the UAE's largest city and an emerging global tourism hub, foreign tourists over the age of 21 can enjoy alcohol in licensed venues such as hotels and bars.

And adult tourists can drink alcohol on Emirates and Etihad flights, including flights to their airport hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It is possible to legally drink alcohol in Dubai — but public intoxication is outlawed.
It is possible to legally drink alcohol in Dubai — but public intoxication is outlawed.

Both airlines offer extensive menus of wine, beer and spirits, usually served for free. They also allow passengers to carry alcohol in their luggage, although the UAE does have strict rules on the importation of duty-free liquor.

But here's the catch: while tourists can legally drink in some parts of the UAE, public intoxication is forbidden - and that includes if you arrive in the country that way.

"It's illegal to drink alcohol or be intoxicated in public," Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says of the UAE.

"You can be arrested. Foreigners have been arrested on arrival after becoming intoxicated on incoming aircraft or while in transit."

A few alcoholic beverages on your flight is fine (within reason).
A few alcoholic beverages on your flight is fine (within reason).

The fact Dr Holman indulged in a harmless glass of wine on an Emirates flight wasn't the problem.

The problem was, when she arrived in the UAE, she was at the mercy of the country's rules about public intoxication - despite her blood alcohol level being under the legal driving limit in both the UK and Australia.

So travellers, feel free to enjoy that glass of plonk on your next flight to Dubai. But just be aware that if someone suspects you're drunk once you step off the plane, that's when you might regret it.

Emirates declined to respond to news.com.au's query about drinking alcohol on flights.


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